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42 These admittedly complex images of sentimental bohemia have been so successful in defining the myth of the modern artist’s life, that they have almost completely filtered out alternate versions of the bohemia myth. Yet, Murger’s bohemia was preceded by an earlier and more ironic formulation of the modern artist’s life that was to have greater impact on the actual strategies and practices of modernist and avant-garde artists. Turning to The´ophile Gautier’s cultural images of bohemia involves a transition from a realistic and sentimental universe of social representation to a theatrical world of masquerades and disguises.

The dominant approach to this question has generally taken a political and ideological turn. 27 Plausible as this explanation is on the surface, it becomes problematic on closer examination. In the first place, the young bohemians were neither conservative nor religious in outlook, and therefore lacked the kind of ideological or philosophic investment in the Middle Ages that characterized reactionaries such as Edmund Burke or Joseph de Maistre. Indeed, their essentially irreverent and transgressive temperament put them on a collision course with conservatives of all casts, who saw in the Middle Ages a normative ideal for modern societies.

Gautier’s bohemian persona was an essentially unheroic and comic figure, whose informal form of address subverted all traditional expectations about the exalted mission of the artist. “I resemble those relentless chatter-boxes,” he confessed, “who grab you by the buttonhole of your suit, monsieur, or by the tip of your white gloves, madame, and trap you in the corner of the salon in order to hold forth on all the observations gathered in a fifteen-minute pause in the conversation. On my honor, I have no other objectives.

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